Neuroprosthesis for the restoration of mobility in people with severe paralysis
Dr. Carsten Mehring
‘Computational Motor Control & Brain-Machine Interfaces’ working group, Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg
Recipient: Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg
Funding: GO-Bio Phase I (01.03.2007 - 31.12.2011, 2.050.598 Euro)
In healthy people, voluntary movements are initiated by the motor cerebral cortex. From there, neural impulses are transmitted to the muscles via the spinal cord. If this path is interrupted – for example, as a result of a stroke – it can result in paralysis up to a complete inability to initiate voluntary movements, despite the fact that the brain is still able to transmit the corresponding control signals. In Freiburg, an interdisciplinary team headed by Carsten Mehring (biophysicist), Jörn Rickert (neurobiologist) and Tonio Ball (neuroscientist) is working towards the development of a computer-based motor neuroprosthesis that will improve treatment options for severely paralysed patients.
The principle behind this ‘brain-machine interface’ (BMI) is as follows: In a minimally invasive procedure, an electrode is implanted on the surface of the brain. This measures the still-existing neuronal activity, which is converted into control signals. Via a complex system of amplifiers and software, these signals can then be used to control computers or artificial limbs. Also conceivable is control of the musculature of paralysed parts of the body by means of muscle stimulation. The Freiburg-based scientists from the BMBF-funded Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Berlin, alongside the University of Freiburg’s Department of Neurobiology, University Clinic and Institute for Microsystem Technology, are pursuing a brain-machine interface approach in which the neuroprosthesis destroys as little neuronal tissue as possible. This ‘proof principle’ is aimed at demonstrating the essential feasibility of the research carried out in recent years at the University of Freiburg. Carsten Mehring and his team will use the project funding to build on their neuroprosthetic research. In the longer term, the neuroprostheses will be further developed in close cooperation with the participating academic, technical and clinical groups.